Feds Eye Dropping All Dockside Fishing Boat Monitoring

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Feds Eye Dropping All Dockside Fishing Boat Monitoring

Feds may end dockside monitoring......

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today it was considering ending all dockside monitoring and using the money to help offset the operating costs for sectors, the fishing cooperatives into which nearly all New England groundfishing boats have organized under the catch share management system.

The move was applauded by the industry and its backers, who, in the run-up to Amendment 16, were told that sectors would be self-governing and reduce costly regulation, but have thus far found the opposite to be true.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry had urged NMFS to drop the idea of putting private citizens, hired for their fish-counting ability, into the holds of commercial fishing boats.

“This is how government should work,” Kerry said in an email after learning of today’s announcement. “You make the case on the facts, you work in good faith, and you stay at it. This decision removes one more unnecessary burden on our fishermen.”

"We are considering eliminating dockside monitoring entirely,” NMFS spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said in a telephone interview. Her comment came soon after NMFS had issued a notice suspending a controversial, short-lived directive for dockside monitors to enter the holds of off-loaded commercial boats to help law enforcement find potentially hidden fish.

Dockside monitoring was fully underwritten by NMFS during the first year of sector/catch share fishing, at a cost estimated at $2 million.

The government is committed to another year of full underwriting, but eventually, these costs — as well as the cost of on-board observers — are slated to transfer to the industry. NMFS did not immediately provide spending and budget reports for the monitoring and observer programs.

The directive sending monitors into the hold was in effect for less than two weeks, having taken effect May 1, the start of the new fishing year. The year is the second under Amendment 16, the groundfishing regulatory regimen that includes the catch share system. The system also stems from the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that sought to end overfishing, hence the emphasis on observers on fishing trips and monitors to oversee and audit the unloading.

But virtually no one outside NMFS favored the directive that the monitors enter the holds to look for allegedly hidden fish, which the Federal Register text of the second year changes to Amendment 16 attributed to the urging of law enforcement.

“We strongly believe the program should be eliminated,” said Jackie Odell, executive director of the coalition, which serves as the platform for 12 of the 19 groundfishing sectors. “There are better ways for data collection, and monitors are a pretty expensive redundancy.”

She said Wednesday the announcement of a possible abandonment of dockside monitoring was “great news.”

“It’s also great news that they are looking for ways to reduce sector costs, which reduces the cost of doing business for fishermen,” Odell said. “But it’s also necessary, unless they want the sector system to fail.”

The NMFS response suspending the directive was distributed to the sectors late Tuesday, and on Wednesday Mooney-Seus sent the Times an email which discussed the abandonment of the entire dockside monitoring program.

The document asserts the belief “that the ability for dockside monitors to inspect fish holds is a crucial component to an effective dockside monitoring program.”

But the memo went on to say, that “given the current budget climate, NMFS’ interest in and commitment to assisting the fishing industry by defraying sector costs, reducing the industry’s reporting burden, and the concerns about hold inspections, the agency is currently considering whether funding for dockside monitoring could be put to better use by providing additional funds to sectors to reduce their operating costs.”

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